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Nobody likes to see their taxes increase, but it's an essential service that we provide.

Two town of Brownville village fire departments urge consolidation

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Small fire departments that rely on volunteers and local support are struggling to survive. Fire departments in the neighboring villages of Brownville and Dexter are urging residents to support a merger and a new form of governance. One fire chief says consolidating will make funding and firefighting simpler for the rural towns of Jefferson County. Joanna Richards reports.

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Joanna Richards
Watertown Correspondent

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Right now, the town of Brownville is covered by two village fire departments with headquarters in Dexter and  Brownville. Both departments are funded by contributions from town and village taxpayers. A new fire district would mean the entire town would be covered by one service with a board of commissioners that would have the power to tax.

Keith Alexander, head of the Dexter Volunteer Fire Department, said that about half of the departments' budgets are currently filled through community fundraisers like chicken barbecues. Lately, however, the allure of grilled food has just not been enough to draw in supporters.

"The fundraising efforts have been on the downturn for the last several years," said Alexander, "The people are just not coming out and supporting the events."

That, coupled with the ever-increasing standards for training, equipment testing and replacements means these departments are having a harder and harder time making ends meat. Alexander was blunt about what that could mean:

"What would happen without the fire district is, the trucks would eventually stop running, because there's just not the funds to replace the trucks."

Alexander said the fire departments have been underfunded for years. Equipment is aging. He’s worried about a pumper in Dexter that will need replacing in coming years.

"Nobody likes to see their taxes increase, but it's an essential service that we provide. When was the last time anybody saw a DPW, a police department, or a sanitation department having to hold a fundraiser to buy bullets, to buy road salt, to do all those sort of things?"

The current proposal would hike the cost of fire protection from about 60 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value to about $1 per $1,000 for residents.

Alexander also stated that fire districts can save money in the long run by consolidating administration, equipment and insurance costs and avoiding duplication of services.

A vote is set for today from noon to 8 p.m. at the Brownville Town Hall. 

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